How to sell your non-finance degree in your investment application and interview
Investment banks and investment management firms recruit from a broad academic pool because they’re keen to build and sustain a diverse workforce. Gemma Adams, vice-president in recruitment at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities, says: ‘MUSI doesn’t want a class where all entrants are a complete carbon copy of one another. We don’t want 20 graduates who have all achieved firsts in economics at a redbrick university, for example – that just isn’t how we work here. We want a really diverse class.’
You may already be familiar with employers’ degree subject requirements. But how confident are you using your non-finance degree to prove you have the requisite skills and knowledge for your desired role? It’s important that you bring out the relevant parts of your degree (see examples below) to strengthen your application. However, remember that your degree is a piece of the puzzle; internships, extracurricular activities and having done something exceptional, such as setting up your own business while at university, are of equal importance.
Engineering and technical degrees
As an engineering graduate who has completed computer-based modules, you will have developed IT skills suitable for middle or back office roles at investment banks. If you’d prefer a more ‘visible’ position, the experience you have gained finding solutions to technical problems and working with numbers will be suitable for other business functions. At Nomura, for example, problem solving is a must-have competency across all roles.
You should show recruiters at the online application stage that you have developed transferable skills during your three/four-year degree. For example, if asked ‘In just one sentence, what makes you stand out from other applicants?’ (MUSI’s application form), you could summarise the breadth of your relevant competencies (eg technical, numerical and analytical) that aren’t easily developed on other courses.
During your geography degree you’ll have developed a broad range of skills and knowledge that is attractive to finance employers. Among them are: research, data collection, analysis and evaluation, report writing and data presentation, as well as a good grasp of social, economic and environmental issues. It’s important that you emphasise this throughout your application. For instance, you can add your relevant skills to the skills section on your CV.
You can also promote your skills and your unique experience in interview. Geography graduate Charlotte Thompson, an investment management trainee at M&G Investments, told us: ‘A trip to South Africa as part of a development fieldwork course at university gave me loads of examples that I could mention when discussing skills in interview, so I’d definitely recommend having something slightly unusual to talk about.’
Humanities degrees, such as…
… modern languages degree
Investment banks and investment management firms have a global presence, which makes graduates who are bi-/multilingual desireable. A practical understanding of other cultures and the ability to engage with a wide range of people is also valued. For instance, both RBC Capital Markets and Nomura have said in their recruitment guidance that any additional languages (especially European languages at RBC) are a strong advantage, although not a pre-requisite when applying.
You should promote and demonstrate the relevant skills that you have developed on your course, using examples, to stand out. Perhaps you studied abroad for a year in a country where your language of study is widely spoken and proved your adaptability, flexibility and interpersonal skills. Such experiences could also stimulate interesting conversations during interview, which will make employers remember you – many seek candidates who’ll be enjoyable to work with.
… history degree
History graduates will have developed plenty of transferable skills that are in demand by investment banking and investment management employers. In your application form and at interview emphasise these specific skills, such as managing and organising large quantities of information from diverse sources. This is the type of work you’ll do as an analyst at an investment bank. Research, analysis, evaluation, and communicating copious amounts of complex information succinctly and coherently are also the sort of skills that will be attractive to prospective employers, so make sure you big them up.
Many investment organisations have legal and/or compliance divisions so will be keen to attract law graduates. If you have done a law degree and are keen to break into finance ensure you confidently connect your academic experience and knowledge to your chosen finance role in your covering letter, CV or application form.
You could highlight modules through which you have developed the desired competencies and knowledge. Perhaps you did a mergers and acquisitions module and built a good grasp of corporate acquisitions. Mentioning this will prove your potential and interest in finance if you’re applying for, say, a position in an investment bank’s M&A division.
Did you know that investment banks and investment management firms have departments that handle their internal and/or external communications? For instance, Goldman Sachs’ executive office deals directly with the communications side of the business. As a communications or marketing graduate, you’ll find that your experience in public relations and writing for print and online publications will appeal to recruiters.
If other divisions across the investment industry attract you, such as sales, trading and research, apply – making sure you showcase your relevant strengths throughout the recruitment process. For example, as a marketing graduate you may have gained experience of product management and development, which would stand out if you’re applying for a marketer role at J.P. Morgan.
Social science degrees, such as…
… politics degree
You’ve got a great foundation if you’ve done a politics degree, as investment banks and investment management firms value commercial awareness and a genuine interest in the industry and what might affect it. One of the qualities sought by Baillie Gifford, for example, is a strong interest in world events and views on the potential impact financial, political and global events could have on investing. Additionally, governments are among these organisations’ clients, so an enhanced understanding of political systems and institutions will help you on the job.
Your application and interview are great opportunities for you to display your commercial acumen and interest in the industry. For instance, Richard Barry, Baillie Gifford’s HR manager, said you should include sound reasons as to why you have applied for a job at the investment management firm in your covering letter. For Barry, being ‘curious about the world and wanting a job that allows you to explore the world further’, is a good reason. This is something that you would be able to prove with your politics degree.